Do I Take or Not Take the Six-Pack I Brought to the Party?

When you come to a party in the modern era, you are expected to bring a gift for the host.  Traditionally when alcohol is expected to be consumed by the host and guests, it is customary for guests to bring a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine.  But what is the appropriate social etiquette when the six-pack you brought is unopened at the end of the night? Is it acceptable to take the beer home or is that the height of rudeness?

This question came back into the spotlight recently when a woman from England stabbed a guest at her party who tried to take home the drinks that he brought to the party.  On March 15, 2015, Samantha Houlgrave of Blackburn, Lancashire was convicted of inflicting grave bodily injury for stabbing her guest with a nine-inch blade causing damage to the man’s internal organs.  She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and three years on conditional release.

We can all agree that Ms. Houlgrave overreacted to her guest taking the drinks home, but was she wrong to be upset altogether?  In 1993, William Greaves, a writer and news reporter, tried to develop a code of conduct that would establish proper drinking etiquette.  In the Daily Telegraph, he published “Greaves’ Rules” which were a set of etiquette guidelines on how one is supposed to act in an English pub.  Unfortunately, these rules do not apply to house parties.

We can try to look at the myriad of etiquette books in existence on the market to answer this question, but, as the term “myriad” implies, there are dozens of these books.  So which one to follow?  Maybe we should look at what the law says to help us see how we should handle this situation.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a gift is “a voluntary transfer of property to another made gratuitously and without consideration.”  Consideration means a thing of legal value.  According to the law, a contract requires that you give something to the other person.  The thing given is called consideration.  Consideration can be a thing worth millions of dollars such as real estate or a thing of no monetary value such as a promise to stop drinking alcohol.  A gift therefore, is some property that a person gives without expecting anything back.

The law also helps us understand when a gift has been given.  There are four ways in which a person proves in court that a gift was given.  The first is that the person must be legally able to make the gift.  If the gift-giver (known as a “donor” in the law) is a minor or has been determined to be insane or otherwise mentally incapable, then s/he cannot give a gift because that person does not have the legal capacity to do so.  Another rule is that the person must mean or have the intent to give the gift.  The final two rules are that the donor must actually deliver the property to the person s/he is giving it to and the person who is getting the property must accept it.

The last rule to review while considering this question is that once the gift is transferred to the person receiving it (known as a “donee”), then that person owns it over everyone else in the world.  In other words, once a gift has been transferred to the donee, then the gift-giver has no right to take it back. 

If we look only at the law, then the question of whether it is appropriate to take back that unopened six-pack of beer is simple.  In this example, the person giving the beer has the capacity since they were able to buy the alcohol in the first place.  Whether the beer-giver has the intent and has made the delivery is clear once s/he has given the beer to the host.  And when the host accepts the beer and puts it in a cooler or her/his kitchen or wherever, the gift is irrevocably given.

Yet the law may help inform how to handle this social situation, but does not completely decide the issue.  At my mother’s house, guests come expecting that she will try to unload food on you after the meal.  Often this means that when wine or beer is brought and unopened, then the person who brought it is expected to bring it back home.  That’s just the way my mother handles it, but I doubt that she is the only one who acts like that.  Sometimes social rules are not governed by strict adherence to the law.

Should a bringer of a six-pack of beer assume that they will not get it back or should they expect to take home any unopened bottles?  What do you think?